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Just one in five trainee barristers find a pupillage through the Bar's clearing house, according to new figures leaked to The Lawyer.
Bar Council research figures show that of 1,981 applicants to the Pupillage Application Clearing House (Pach) in the period 1998-1999, only 442 secured a pupillage.
The statistics were produced six months ago but, according to the Employed and Non-Practising Barristers' Association (ENPBA), they were suppressed by the Bar Council.
"This is a restraint of trade in the worst possible sense," says ENPBA chair Gudrun Parasie.
He adds: "Accepting unlimited numbers of people to apply to the Bar means they are over producing barristers to the tune of 78 per cent.
"We know of no profession that over produces to such an extent. Doctors, for example, have less than 1 per cent of over-production."
The number of students going through Pach and actually securing a pupillage place has dropped dramatically in the past three years. In 1996-1997, 35 per cent of trainees secured a pupillage through it.
This is in stark contrast to their counterparts entering the solicitors' profession. In 1997-1998 there were 4,826 training contracts available and only 4,338 students who passed the Legal Practice Course first time.
Dr Peter Gray, ENPBA's General Secretary, says: "The Bar Council likes to have a large surplus because it allows chambers to pick and choose the best candidates."
He is demanding that either the number of Bar Vocational Course places be restricted or that the Bar Council provides alternative career opportunities for those without places.
"Ideally they should grant them rights of audience as well," he says.
The Bar Council claims that guidance from the Office of Fair Trading prevents it from restricting the number of places.
It says that another 350 trainees gained pupillages last year by bypassing Pach and going direct to chambers.